Twitter Removes Taliban Officials’ Blue Checks After BBC Report

One supporter of Afghanistan’s controversial, hard-line Islamist administration has lauded Elon Musk’s takeover as “making Twitter great again”

Taliban members ride in a pickup truck
Taliban members ride in a pickup truck during a celebration of the first anniversary of the Taliban's return to power on August 15, 2022 in Kabul, Afghanistan. (Photo by Nava Jamshidi/Getty Images)

Having once harbored America’s biggest enemy and now returning to power in Afghanistan, the Taliban are reportedly paying for Twitter Blue checkmarks and praising Elon Musk’s takeover of the social media platform, per a report from the BBC.

Several officials of the hard-line Islamist group boast hundreds of thousands of followers and have subscribed to Twitter Blue, or the blue-check subscription verification feature that costs either $8 or $11 per month, depending on the device it runs on.   

Prior to Musk’s takeover of the San Francisco-based company, the blue check was applied only to accounts verified as belonging to “active, notable and authentic accounts of public interest,” according to Twitter’s former policy. It could not be purchased but was instead granted by Twitter after a vetting process.

One of the well-documented changes under Musk’s ownership is now virtually anyone can buy in Twitter Blue via subscription. As frequent users of the platform, several Taliban officials and their supporters have done so.

Among them is head of the Taliban’s information access department Hedayatullah Hedayat, who disseminates posts covering the Taliban administration. BBC News reported, citing “local media,” that he re-upped with Twitter Blue after his blue check was removed last month. Abdul Haq Hammad, head of the media watchdog at the Afghan Ministry of Information and Culture, has a blue check on an active account with 170,000 followers. At least one Taliban supporter has opted into Twitter Blue, as well, giving props to Elon Musk for “making Twitter great again,” a riff on former president Donald Trump’s MAGA mantra.

Later Tuesday, The Guardian reported that Twitter has apparently reacted to the controversy by removing the blue checks from Hedayat and Hammad’s accounts. The British newspaper identified Hammad as the Islamist group’s “top media watchdog,” while Voice of America reported Jan. 4 that Hammad told them a court was to rule on the licensing of 10 outlets and agencies the Taliban suspect of spreading “propaganda and rumors.”

It wasn’t immediately clear if the two Taliban officials’ Twitter Blue subscriptions were suspended or revoked. Hedayat has 187,000 followers and got his blue check back “after it was first removed in December,” while Hammad has 170,000 followers, according to The Guardian.  

Although one user posted that “Twitter Blue: Endorsed by the Taliban (laughing out loud),” neither Musk nor Taliban have publicly commented.  

The Taliban’s presence on Twitter was thrust into controversy when Trump miffed in October 2021 that “we live in a world where the Taliban has a huge presence on Twitter, yet your favorite American President has been silenced. This is unacceptable.”

Twitter Blue was introduced in December 2022. Among its benefits, along with the blue check, are higher search ranking, mentions, and replies, per Twitter.

The “observed accounts for Taliban officials,” according to BBC, weren’t verified with a blue check mark prior to December. However, after the Islamists reclaimed power in Afghanistan following U.S. withdrawal in 2021, they took control of verified accounts run by their predecessor officials. Among the entities the Taliban took over was the Afghanistan Cricket Board, which has a gold check mark now – which is used to identify businesses. Grey checkmarks are also deployed to verify some notable users.

Meta Platforms, Inc.-owned Instagram has a similar blue check verification system. Among its unverified users is an account purportedly run by the Kremlin, with more than 515,000 followers. It is frequently updated with news and updates, including Instagram Stories, featuring day-to-day affairs of Russian President Vladimir Putin.